Russia is the largest country in the world, almost twice the area of the world’s second-largest country, Canada. It stretches some 5,600 miles from east to west across two continents and 11 time zones. It contains Europe’s longest river, the Volga; its largest lake, Lake Ladoga; and the world’s deepest and possibly oldest lake, Lake Baikal. Its environments range from deserts to forests to Arctic tundra. Its capital and largest city is Moscow. As of July 2018, Russia had a population of more than 142 million people. If you’re considering a trip to Russia, make sure to purchase Russia travel insurance to protect yourself against any unexpected illnesses or injuries that may occur.
Tourism in Russia has grown significantly since the late Soviet period (late 1980s). The country welcomed about 28.5 million visitors in 2013. Given Russia’s size, it’s frankly impossible to see every major attraction the country has to offer in a single trip. What follows is more of a “greatest hits”-style attempt at highlighting a few of its most popular destinations, including Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, and the Black Sea region.
As the capital of Russia, Moscow is home to a number of important historical and cultural tourist destinations. The city is known for its museums, art museums, and somewhat luxurious (read: expensive) shopping and nightlife opportunities. Bars and nightclubs exercise rather strict “face control” – that is, allowing bouncers to refuse admission based on their first impressions of someone’s appearance. Make sure to dress well and perhaps bring some extra cash if you’re looking to enjoy a night on the town.
The Red Square is one of the most famous city squares in the world and is considered to be the symbolic center of the entire country. It’s surrounded on all sides by culturally significant institutions. Lenin’s Mausoleum contains the body of Vladimir Lenin, one of the founders of the Soviet Union. The Kremlin is a complex featuring four palaces, four cathedrals, and towers, and it serves as the official residence of the Russian President. Saint Basil’s Cathedral, one of the most iconic buildings in Russia, was built between 1555 and 1561. It’s internationally renowned for its bonfire-style design and its colorful, onion-shaped domes. The Red Square and its immediate surroundings are a must-see for any visitor.
The Tretyakov Gallery houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Russian fine art in the world, with more than 130,000 exhibits ranging from the 11th to the 20th centuries. Highlights include “Theotokos of Vladimir” from the year 1130, Andrei Rublev’s “Trinity”, Levitzky’s “Catherine the Great in a Temple of Justice”, Kiprensky’s “Portrait of Alexander Pushkin”, and Savrasov’s “The Rooks Have Come Back”. Similarly, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts is the largest museum of European art in Moscow. It holds a collection of more than 700,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and more from some of the greatest artists of all time, among them Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, and Van Gogh.
As always, if you’re travelling in a big city, make sure to stay safe and keep close tabs on your belongings.
The city of Saint Petersburg lies at the far western end of Russia on the Baltic Sea. Culturally and symbolically, it serves as a gateway between the west and the east. Its three most distinctive features are its mix of western European and Russian architecture; its lack of a central city square or kremlin; and its numerous waterways, tributaries, and canals from the Neva River. In contrast to the luxury and decadence of Moscow, Saint Petersburg has long been renown as the epicenter of Russian culture, home to artists from Dostoyevsky to Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev. For tourists, the city has been called a “mecca of cultural, historical, and architectural landmarks”.
The Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace were founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great to house her private art collection. It houses three million works of art from legends like da Vinci and Picasso, and it welcomes more than four million visitors each year. The museum is made up of a complex of six buildings including the Winter Palace, which served as the residence of the czars for close to 200 years. For many, touring the building itself is as much of a draw as viewing the artwork. Similarly, the Russian Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Russian art. Featuring more than 400,000 works from the 10th century to the present day, the museum is so comprehensive that visitors should consider mapping out their route ahead of time. Popular draws are the Benois Wing, the Marble Palace, and the Stroganov Palace. Finally, the Faberge Museum boasts a collection by artist Peter Carl Faberge, including nine of the bejeweled “Easter eggs” that bear his name.
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is another top-rated attraction, featuring ornately colored onion domes and complex mosaics on the inside. The church is located in the city center and is pretty small, the perfect destination to peek into for a few minutes and then keep moving. St. Isaac’s Cathedral was completed in 1858, and it’s known for its distinctive massive dome and luxurious interior, featuring multicolored marble floors and beautiful frescoes. Peterhof Palace & Garden, modeled after Versailles, boasts meticulously manicured gardens and fountains and is a must-see for summer tourists. The Mariinsky Theatre is an essential destination for opera and ballet fans, where classics like “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake” made their debuts. Finally, for history buffs, make sure to check out the Peter and Paul Fortress, the city’s founding site and home to Peter and Paul Cathedral, the Grand Ducal Burial Chapel, the State Museum of the History of St. Petersburg, and the St. Petersburg Mint.
Kazan serves as the capital city of the Republic of Tatarstan. It’s branded itself as “The Third Capital of Russia,” although several other cities across Russia have unofficially claimed that status, as well. Kazan presents a blend of the Christian Russia and Muslim Tatar cultures. It’s one of the largest economic, political, scientific, and cultural centers in the country, and it’s a can’t-miss destination for historic tourism.
The city’s main attraction is the Kazan Kremlin, built by Ivan the Terrible and completed in the 1500s. Made of pale white sandstone instead of brick, the complex features several examples of older architecture like the Annunciation Cathedral, the Soyembika Tower, and the Spasskaya Tower. The Kremlin’s main attraction, however, is the Kul Sharif Mosque, the largest place of Muslim worship in Europe and home to an extensive library of ancient books.
The Temple of All Religions, started in 1992 and still under construction, blends together several types of religious architecture, including an Eastern Orthodox church, a mosque, and a synagogue. Architect Ildar Khanov has expressed his goal of representing all 16 of the world’s largest faiths when the temple is complete. Currently, it serves as a cultural center and a site of unification in the spirit of Kazan’s own history of cultural blending.
Other attractions worthy of note include Millennium Park, built in 2005 to commemorate the city’s 1000th birthday; the Soviet Lifestyle Museum, which presents a series of quirky exhibits about day-to-day life under Soviet rule; and the Riviera Aquapark, a waterpark that might help families and kids cool off in the city’s unusually high (for Russia, anyway) temperatures.
The coast of the Black Sea has become a popular site for resorts and nature tourism. The cities of Sochi and Tuapse are common seaside destinations boasting shale beaches and, in Sochi’s case, several major ski resorts. Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest and most likely oldest lake, featuring clear waters and panoramic views you’d have to see to believe. The Kamchatka area features volcanoes and geysers, while Karelia boasts lakes and bouldering opportunities and Tuva offers cold mineral springs and salt lakes.
If you’re going skiing, we’d recommend purchasing ski travel insurance to protect yourself against the added risk of adventure-type sports.
Russian cuisine is a mix of European, Asian, and Siberian influences. Staple ingredients include fish, pork, poultry, mushrooms, and berries, and classic meals include a wide variety of soups and stews, as well as pancakes, pies, cereals, and vodka. One classic dish is borscht, beet soup that can be served hot or cold. Shchi is cabbage soup with a variety of other possible vegetables and meat (usually chicken). Pirozhkis are baked or fried puff pastries filled with meat, potatoes, cabbage, or cheese. Pelmeni, the national dish of Russia, is a pastry dumpling filled with minced meat and served alone or slathered in butter or sour cream. Shashlyks are Russian kebabs—meat and vegetables skewered on a stick. There’s always beef stroganoff if you’re craving something a little more familiar.
Russia Travel Insurance
If you’re on vacation—especially in Russia, known for its premier vodka selections—make sure to check the alcohol provisions of your travel insurance policy to make sure you stay covered, as many plans will not reimburse you for any injuries or illnesses that occur while you’re under the influence.
We highly recommend that as you’re planning your trip, you consider purchasing travel insurance and travel health insurance. Travel insurance provides coverage for prepaid, non-refundable expenses like emergency medical care, trip interruption, lost luggage, emergency cash transfers, car rental coverage, and flight accidents. Travel health insurance provides medical coverage while you’re abroad, featuring benefits like coverage of trip interruption, emergency medical evacuation / repatriation, return of mortal remains, and accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D). If you’re having difficulty picking a plan, please contact us. Our licensed, experienced representatives will be happy to help you select the plan that best fits your needs.